Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Thinking about karma today.

Last time, I talked to my Buddhist therapist, way back in April, we were doing the contemplation about the Four Reminders, he mentioned the last one: the inescapability of karma. Karma is, he said, how our actions affect our suffering. I said, “Oh, I have been meaning to talk to you about that.” And I had. I’d been thinking about how different religions deal with my kind of suffering. I actually recently had reread the Book of Job. But, in Buddhism, something never sat right with me and karma. Hell, I want to believe that if someone does a horrible thing, he or she will suffer eventually...but what if you are suddenly the one suffering? Now, with something like stillbirth or the death of your baby without any reason, I wanted to know, uh, you know, I mean, when I think about karma, with this kind of suffering, the bad-things-happen-to-good-people-type suffering, uh, this is awkward, but what I want to know is: do Buddhists think it is my own fault that my daughter died?

He said that traditional Buddhists might explain that in our past lives we were all kinds of people: thieves, mothers, butchers, farmers, murders, liars, monks, doctors, children, animals…He said a monk once told him that if we piled the bones of all the lives we have lived, it would reach through three universes. I may be going through this as a result of past karma from a life hundreds of years ago. I hated that answer. I mean, spit-on-the-floor hate that answer. Then he said, but the Buddha said not to take his words literally. He said to use his teaching to develop your own understanding of the universe. He asked me what I thought. What does karma mean to me now, as the mother of a dead baby?

I think the world is chaotic and random and often cruel. The death of my child had nothing to do with me—nothing I did, nothing my husband did, nothing my daughter did. She died. I can’t live thinking that Lucy’s death is my karma. The guilt of that interpretation would eat me from the inside out until I am nothing but a withered shell of a parent. There is no physical reason Lucy died, no medical reason, that is. I also don’t think there is a metaphysical reason.

But I think, spiritually, I have to figure out my reason to move forward. What I do have control over, and think has to do with my karma, is what I do with my experience of chaos and suffering in the world. This life, right now, is my choice. What am I going to do with this experience of loss?

Compassion. Fear. Love. Understanding. Grief. Sadness. Comfort. Kindness. Anger. Patience. Misplaced emotion. Mourning. Selfishness. Selflessness. If I toss each one, carefully peeled and scrubbed, into a blender (fingers safely tucked away from blades) and drink this past year down, I hope to emerge healthier. I hope this bitter juice with its subtle sweetness coating my throat helps me emerge more of those things I believe in. I control that part of me, the patient loving compassionate part, the part that experiences other people's suffering and loves. I sometimes feel very impatient. I sometimes feel very unloving and unlovable. I sometimes give into anger and throw pillows around my house. I write on here about the worst that life has thrown at me—death and loss and grief and suffering.

But through this year, I have seen the best humans have to offer. Truly. Someone wrote a comment on another blog about how negative babyloss blogs are, that people are stuck in their grief and it is unhealthy. And I just thought how narrow that was. How incredibly wrong. “The supportive, beautiful, unconditionally loving part of strangers, don’t you see that?" I wanted to scream. "Don't you read beyond the post? Don't you read what women, complete strangers on opposite ends of the world, write to each other through their own pain?”

That is all I see--compassion and love, not negativity. Send us your ugliest thoughts, and this group of suffering women will listen. In the most selfless way, they will embrace you and just say, "I know, sweetie, I know." The selfish post suddenly becomes selfless.

These women, all suffering and grieving, hold your hand, tell you you are normal, listen, and transform the ugly into love. For most of us, this little dusty corner of the internet is the only space where we can express our ugliness, anger, sadness and fear, but by speaking its name, I believe we transform our own karma. When I shake my fist at the world in anger, the comments on this blog give me patience. When I cry onto my computer screen, the comments sit there, embracing ((arms)) and listen. When I write of my selfish, self-absorbed, guilt-ridden feelings, the comments fill me with compassion towards myself. In these many small, tiny gestures of love, I think we all are transforming the world's karma. And so when I think of karma now, I think of this.

As I walked away from that session, he said one last thing just as I left his room. “And about Lucy’s karma, maybe Lucy fulfilled her karma by living her life just as she lived it.”



  1. I've thought so much about karma too.. I can't imagine ever doing something so horrible that any of us would deserve to lose a child. ugh! The karma thing doesn't bother me so much.. but I used to be a 'everything happens for a reason' kind of gal.. now, I hate that! MY baby doesn't die 'for a reason' it pisses me off! As for baby loss blogs being 'negative' are they supposed to be flowery? HA! Without the support of all of you, how would any of us get through? I'm so grateful to read and know your stories.. how would I have any idea that I'm still 'normal' if I didn't have this connection?

  2. I really don't get the 'nrgative' criticism. It makes me wonder if these people actually READ the posts. Yes there is anger and grief and doubt. Often things get ugly. But I really don;t find these emotions to be negative - they're honest, powerful, necessary. I think of negativity as a kind of 'mean girls' style of pettiness and judgement, and the only examples of this that I can think of are the commetns of these critics.

    I love our dusty little internet corner, it saved my sanity.

  3. No one deserves to lose a child. It took me a long time to realize that though. I blamed myself for a long time and thought I must have done something really awful somewhere along the line for this to happen to me. Like you, I have no reason for Maya's death - it just happened.

    As for the "negativity" comments, I have to disagree. If they took the time to read more than one post, they would understand that it's not all negative. It's part of the healing process for us. There is beauty, positivity, hope, and even laughter hidden within the sadness - they simply need to open their minds and look.

  4. People can be petty. Buddhist therapists don't know everything, and for everything good and helpful on the internet there is a dark and critical group of talkers as well.
    In my corner of the universe, many women are competitive and petty and mostly insecure. I do not relate to them. Without this corner of the internet, how would I get a sense of belonging? How would I know that I will be okay, and get to walk through this with others.
    What binds us together may be hard to stomach for most, but that's the very reason these blogs carry such value.
    Thank you for this post Angie.. Lindsay

  5. wise thoughts you are writing here. I will star this post in my google reader.

    I heard (read) once that a baby that dies was a soul who only needed a wee bit more time to reach enlightenment. I don't know if that is true doctrine in any religion or not.

    And we are still the ones left here to grieve. But maybe part of the baby's karmic needs was to teach us something (compassion and empathy sounds like to good ones)

    I don't know. These are unanswerable questions...

  6. I could not agree with you more. Very well put Angie...Thank you and (((hugs)))!

  7. I remember a friend talked to me about karma and Sam's death and I too was angry. What the fuck could I have done that I (and Sam) would have to pay a price so dear?

    Thanks for this post, Angie. You write beautifully. xo

  8. Yes, Angie. Yes. Love you heaps.

  9. Karma. I think I believe in it too much. I catch myself judging a situation or hoping to never be in that situation and I just think, "I never wanted to be in the situation where my baby died." So, am I destined to live out every little judgment I make? Am I destined to live out that which I fear? Even after all this? It's frightening. And I want to just say "Karma's a load of crap." But, I don't know.

    And, yes. You are so right, Angie. We throw out our garbage into this hole of cyberspace only to find that our cohorts, our soul sisters pick it up and transform it for us. This is a lifesaver for me. And for all of us who've found ourselves on this path.

    Peace, my friend.

  10. I struggle with this too, the karma thing.

    After I lost Little One, I talked to a Swami and Goswami. The explanation that I received (if I can remember this through the shock I was in) was Little One's life was his life however short it was. It was his karma to live the life he did. It was one of the births, of many lifetimes, that both of us were to go through. Why, I don't know. Did we do anything to make this happen, ABSOLUTELY NOT. I think it is much like what the therapist said when you left the room. Some how through time this has made sense to me. The explanation is that it simply just is. I can't make anymore sense out of it than that.

    Another way to look at karma is with a longer view, how will this play out in months years to come? It is continuous. In a way, we are just looking at the beginning (our babies' deaths) and not the end (what happens next). Yet, this falls close to the category (that I dislike) of "everything happens for a reason". Karma should be looked at as causation rather than a kind of punishment.

    I think you are headed in the direction of the longer view by asking what you are going to do with this experience of loss.

    I am working through all of this now too. Good luck to us ;-).

  11. I'm at odds with karma now too. I can't believe anything I could have done in past lives could deserve this. Period. I agreet as well that its where I go from here that matters.

    I agree with bluebirdsinging. If these negative naysayers actually took the time to read what was being said, they would realise that what we do is actually healthy and healing. So if they aren't taking the time to read it properly then really what else can they do other than bugger off and take their stupid comments with them.


  12. Angie, what a beautiful post. Your words are so powerful. I am still struggling with the karma thing myself. Last week, at the six month mark since Owen's death, I reread some of the cards we had received and still can't stomach the ones that say something to the effect of "this happened for a reason."

    Reading your words and others really helps me! Thank you

  13. What a thoughtful, compelling post. As a Buddhist, I really had to pause and consider your important, still unanswered question. It comes up often at Buddhist teachings, and every teacher I've heard has said, "Karma does not mean you blame the victim for their own suffering." Even though the traditional teachings say things about past lives and cause and effect--e.g., good-looking people had good sexual morality in past lives, rich people were generous--that aspect of the teaching seems to me more to aim to compel us to virtuous behavior in this life, rather than to describe some cosmic law of the universe.

    So my own thoughts about karma tend to be very personal, about what can I do with what comes up in my own life and what resolves can I make for the future (so it was neat for me to get to that part of your post). For others, I have no wisdom into why things happen (the problem of evil you identify so neatly here, the same thing that plagued St. Augustine, and to which all of us only end up saying "it's a mystery" if we're honest or humble at all); the appropriate response to the suffering of others is only compassion.

    But one other thing on karma seems worth mentioning: it is impossibly complex. The way we talk about it in American culture is totally bowdlerized. The thing with Buddhism is that we are slowly trying to understand things, ultimate reality, awareness, and all the rest; it is not a set of doctrines that we intellectually accept or reject, because depending on where we are on the path, we can't even understand them. So this longtime Buddhist practitioner we were with a couple weeks ago--the one in Wyoming, who lived in Nepal for 30 years, working closely with a highly realized teacher, with an intense meditation practice--mentioned to us that he still doesn't understand karma, and the Dalai Lama says also that karma is very hard to explain, very hard to understand.

    In other words, there are no words.

    I love your testimony to the interdependent transformation of the selfish into the selfless in your community here. Blessings on you all.

  14. That "I know" is exactly why I blog.

    This was a lovely post.

  15. What a beautiful post. I liked this one. I could relate to it, having not gone to a Buddist therapist but thought about it in the past. For me, after a while, actually oddly didn't mind people's "everything happens for a reason" comments. I don't know. I think they said such things because our minds are programmed to seek out reasons (funny you should post this now - I just did a post that kinda-sorta relates to it). People feel better about crappy stuff when there's a reason. I've even told myself that before. Not that it's a particularly helpful thing to say.

  16. After Emma died, Dave and I spent a lot of time curled up in front of comedy DVDs - our favourite was "My name is Ea.rl". But we had to step away for a while when we realised that both of us were confusing what had happened to Emma with the way karma is presented there. I don't mean to be flippant because I'm quite sure karma as understood by Buddhists is not karma as presented in a half hour sit-com. But it did lead us to some long and involved conversations about the "whys" of all this - coming as we were from a strongly Christian perspective. Ten months out, my answer is still, "Haven't got a clue". It's still one of the many layers of this grief I'm picking at and working at.

    ...and negative babyloss blogs. Pshaw. I'm constantly amazed by the honesty, the clearsightedness & sheer will to survive that I encounter in so many blogs. That really doesn't strike me as terribly negative.


  17. i wanted to comment but my reply was too long so i just posted on my own blog. hop over to check it out if you like. thank you for this post.

  18. I just read through Lucia's birth story. I have been crying, reading, and holding my daughter tighter while reading. I am so, so very sorry.


What do you think?